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RTC TrailBlog

  • Hurricanes, Rail-Trails, Hills and Adventure

    By Carol Waaser and Karin Fantus


    Karin and I had started planning more than a month in advance. It would be a six-day, self-contained, inn-to-inn tour during the Labor Day weekend, leaving New York City on September 1 and returning September 6. Who knew the Northeast would be slammed by Hurricane Irene on August 28? 

    Our planned route was up to Pawling, N.Y., then across western Connecticut and north through western Massachusetts, finally crossing just into New Hampshire. We would return through the Berkshires and ultimately take the train back to the city from Wassaic.

    As the storm mop-up began on August 29, we watched all the flood warnings and road closure updates we could find. There were several places, particularly in Connecticut, where roads on our route were closed as of Monday, but we couldn't get any further updates as to whether they would be open by Thursday. And we had planned to take the South and North County trailways the first day, which we feared might not be cleared as quickly as the commuter roads. So on Tuesday, August 30, I scouted the southern section of the South County Trailway. Although it was still strewn with leaf and twig debris in many places, crews had already been out clearing the downed trees. We were confident it would be completely passable by Thursday...and it was! Luck stayed with us throughout the trip and we never encountered a closed road or bridge.

    Embarking on the journey as scheduled on September 1, we took the subway from Columbus Circle up to 238th Street in the Bronx, there being elevators at both those stations, allowing us to get our lightly loaded bikes down to the platform and then to the street easily. Thus we skipped the "junk" miles and started our tour close to the first entrance to the rail-trail. Starting with a trail was a good way to ease into a multi-day tour, putting us immediately into a touring frame of mind--an easy, relaxed pace, a chance to chat as we rode side by side, remembering to look at the scenery and maybe even stop for a photo. On a weekday morning, there were few other trail users.

    We were never without a little adventure, from missed turns that added eight miles to each of the first two days, to a hill that was 18- to 20-percent incline for about half a mile (yes, we walked), to on-the-fly route changes, to a power outage the third night that meant a bath in the swimming pool instead of the shower. On the fifth day, as we cycled over the mountains from Northampton to Great Barrington, we had torrential rain storms. The worst came as we started across Route 23 from Otis to Great Barrington. We didn't know there was road construction on the route, and some sections were now unpaved. At 3 in the afternoon, it might as well have been dusk, cycling in the pouring rain, unable to see more than a few yards ahead, on unpaved stretches with loose stones, ruts and mud, and a little lightning and thunder just to keep us alert! But we made it to our next inn, had a good dinner in town and spent the evening drying things out.

    Our route was specifically designed to accommodate visits with various friends and cousins in western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. In addition, we met other fun and interesting people and animals along the way. Three nights were spent at bed-and-breakfasts, one of which, the Sugar Maple Trailside Inn, sits immediately alongside the Northampton Bikeway, which is a westward extension of the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Massachusetts. The inn is run by Craig Della Penna, who has been a lobbyist and advocate of trails and alternative transportation for a number of years. Needless to say, that was an interesting evening. 

    We had planned to do a few sections on rail-trails and ended up doing about 75 miles (out of a total of 350-plus miles) on eight different trails and greenways, including the Putnam Trailway and Harlem Valley Rail Trail in New York, and the Still River Greenway and Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in Connecticut. The trail systems in the Northeast continue to grow; we probably could have done more miles on trails had we done a little more research beforehand. Some trails we either came upon serendipitously or were told about along the way by local folks, and some of the roads we were on are now marked as bicycle routes. These trail and bike route systems are making multi-day touring safe and possible for even novice cyclists. 

    The innkeepers where we stayed, as well as local residents we encountered, see rail-trails as an asset and an economic boon to the community. Wherever we stopped to ask about trail facilities, local merchants and residents knew the information and were very helpful. Along the way, we encountered many smiling cyclists and other trail users who exhibited good trail etiquette. The whole experience came together so nicely.

    Light-loaded inn-to-inn touring is an easy way to take a short, inexpensive vacation. Karin used her road bike and a large Carradice bag that attaches firmly to the seatpost. I used my touring bike with a rack and Topeak MXP rack trunk with small drop-down panniers. Each of us carried between 10 and 15 pounds extra, including gear and tools, an extra cycling kit, a set of off-bike clothes and lightweight shoes, plus whatever toiletries and necessities we needed. Ziploc bags and dry bags protected most of our stuff, even in the downpour. With a spirit of adventure, you can handle anything that happens (especially when you're not camping). And when you're touring by bicycle, you can count on folks to help you out along the way. 

    There are plenty of interesting places you can see in a two- or three-day trip if you want to dip your toe in without making a big commitment. But we've also done 10-day trips covering 600 to 700 miles, still only lightly loaded. (For some of us, camping is not in the cards--we like our creature comforts!) This style is very different from doing club rides, but it is another gift your bicycle--and trails--can give you.

    Photos courtesy of Carol Waaser and Karin Fantus. 

  • Met Branch Clean-up Attracts Diverse Trail Community

    Whether it was a whole load of good karma, or just a meteorological fluke, the rains that had been soaking Washington, D.C., all week stopped and the gray clouds gave way to blue sky for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Day of Service clean-up on the Met Branch Trail (MBT) last Saturday.

    About 20 local residents, trail users, RTC supporters and friends of the MBT rolled up the sleeves and pulled some serious weeds, cut some unruly grass and generally tidied the place up. With summer coming to an end, this yard work on a section of the trail between the New York Avenue and Rhode Island Metro stops should keep the trail foliage tidy through winter.

    Kelly Pack, director of trail development for RTC, has been closely involved in the completion and continued maintenance of the MBT. She says Saturday's event was a perfect way to continue building an active community around the trail.

    "It was great to see the variety of people we had putting their hand up to be involved," she says. "Some people lived nearby, others lived farther away but used the trail every day to get to work. The trail runs right past the Catholic University of America, and so a few of the teachers and faculty joined us. It really said something about the wide variety of people the trail supports."

    The NoMa Business Improvement District helped out with clippers and maintenance machinery; a few residents brought their own lawnmowers along, too.

    As always, every good working bee needs tasty snacks and cool drinks to keep the workers happy, so a big thanks to Kaiser Permanente for providing food and refreshments.

    Our friend Randall Myers took some great photos on the day. Visit our MBT facebook page for pics and more info about how to connect with the MBT community.

    Photo courtesy of Randall Myers.

  • RTC's Work in Camden, N.J., Opens a New World for Students, Residents

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Camden Youth Cycling Learning and Exercising program (CYCLE) is about getting young students on bikes, teaching them how to ride safely, and showing them that with a bike and a pathway, the world is their oyster. But the program is also opening up new options for biking and walking. Thanks to our partners at the Campbell Soup Foundation, the William Penn Foundation and the Coopers Ferry Development Association, this work is helping to revitalize this former center of manufacturing on the banks of the Delaware River.

     

  • Mid America Conference Reflects New Era For Trails

    It wasn't so long ago that trails conferences were mostly concerned with issues like maintenance of gravel pathways, how to accommodate horses and bicycles, and ways to mobilize volunteers for recreational events.

    The times, they are a-changing.

    While these issues are still critical for trail managers, in recent times the humble walking or riding pathway has taken on a broader significance as people come to fully appreciate the role trails can play in the transportation landscape and in encouraging fitness and healthy activity in everyday lives.

    The overlap of economic, environmental and social issues has shown us that the current car-centric transportation system will continue to present more problems than it solves in coming years. Walking and riding have become more than just recreational options; they are now known as solutions for a crisis of sustainability.

    The 2011 Mid America Trails & Greenways Conference is one of a growing number of public gatherings to reflect the change. At this year's conference, to be held in Fort Wayne, Ind., October 2-5, discussions on active transportation systems and sustainability are juxtaposed with presentations on more traditional issues like public liability and wayfinding signs.

    "It's a culture shift," says Rhonda Boose, director of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Midwest Regional Office. "We're seeing it at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and in the trails and transportation community in general."

    Boose has served on the conference's steering committee and will take part in a number of sessions. She says in the past few years awareness has been spreading of how trails and pathways are crucial to the future of communities of all sizes.

    "One of the things we're realizing is how the built environment impacts such a wide range of things, from air quality and congestion, to the commercial vitality of downtown areas and the health of our children," says Boose. "This is all about sustainability-how we can manage our towns and cities to be commercially and environmentally viable into the future, not to mention pleasant places to live."

    The term for this broader theme is 'smart growth.' And though it has fallen into common usage these days, Boose says there is still a need to ensure everyone is working on the same page.

    "How do you define smart growth?" she asks. "In an actual, concrete sense, how do we make sure trails contribute to better communities? We know that options for walking and biking improve everyday living-how do we connect this to public transportation, employment centers, parks, shopping areas? It's difficult, and costly, to go back and retrofit the key components of active transportation, so there needs to be foresight in the way we plan."

    Also on the agenda for the three-day conference: Trail Promotion and Social Networking, Providing Access to Waterways, Conducting Trail User Counts, and the very timely Funding Trails in Tough Times. RTC's Kelly Pack and Eric Oberg will be joining Boose as presenters and moderators at several sessions.

    It won't be all work and no play, however. The day before the conference, attendees will explore some of the region's tremendous recreational features, including the Wabash River Trail, the Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve, and the Franke Park Mountain Bike Trails.

    Anyone with an interest in trails management, development or advocacy is encouraged to attend. For all the fine print, visit www.cityoffortwayne.org/publicworks/matag-conference

    Photo courtesy of City of Fort Wayne

  • Adirondack Community Rallies Around Rail-Trail Potential

    Crucial to the success of any new trail project is the formation of an energetic and motivated group of local advocates and volunteers.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is always eager to provide planning expertise, assist with securing state and local government support, and mobilize our national network of members and supporters. But unless a strong local organization is in place, it can often be very difficult to get a new project off the ground.

    By that measure, the future looks pretty bright for the proposed Adirondack Recreational Trail.

    In the Tri-Lakes region of upper New York State, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake currently carries a seasonal sightseeing excursion train, which many residents say has not delivered significant economic benefits to a picturesque region bursting with potential for recreational tourism.

    The newly created Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA) hope to see that track converted into a 34-mile recreational trail, following the lead of many communities like theirs which have converted their natural resources and historical rail lines into sustainable local economies. They are spreading word of their cause and hope to recruit 500 members in order to persuade local politicians and planners that this project is a development that residents and business people want.

    In August, Carl Knoch, manager of trail development for RTC's Northeast Regional Office, met with area residents to present a message that has sparked the development of similar projects in his native Pennsylvania:  Trails are good business for small towns.

    That's not just a gut feeling. Knoch's office is a national leader in compiling trail user data to assess the economic stimulus of trails to the towns and villages they pass through. This commercial impact--for hotels, campsites, food outlets and outdoor retailers, and the multiplier effect of an injection into the local economy--has helped promote the development of several renowned trail systems in Pennsylvania, and secured the viability of towns once dying with the decline of industry.

    Knoch says the Tri-Lakes is perfectly placed to reap the same rewards.

    "The 60-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail has seen about $3.6 million annually in new spending since the trail was created, with 138,000 users on an annual basis," he says of a comparable trail in the neighboring state. "What could 138,000 new users do for Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and Tupper Lake? In talking to the folks that own businesses along the Pine Creek Rail Trail, they basically say the conversion of that railroad into a multi-season rail-trail is the salvation of the valley."

    Knoch will continue to work with ARTA to recruit new supporters, seek grant opportunities and develop plans for the trail from the concept stage to a more concrete reality.

    Support, spread the word, or keep tabs on this exciting rail-trail project, at www.thearta.org.

    Photo of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

  • New Report from RTC on Canal-Waterways Trails

    Do you have irrigation canals, flood channels or other waterways running through your city? If so, you could have a great opportunity to create shared-use pathways along them for transportation, recreation and, ultimately, a healthier community. Long, uninterrupted corridors along waterways create the perfect opportunity to expand your active (non-motorized) transportation network. Examples highlighted in this report from all over the country--Florida to California-show how successful these projects can be.

    This report from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, entitled Development of Trails along Canals, Flood Channels, and other Waterways: Opportunities, Challenges, and Strategies, discusses preliminary considerations and strategies in the process of developing a trail along a waterway. Topics include: 1) Land Ownership; 2) Developing an Agreement; 3) Owner Use; 4) Liability; and 5) Maintenance, Public Safety and Other Considerations. The report includes sample cooperative agreements between water districts and local jurisdictions for trail development.

    Download a PDF of the report

    Photo: San Gabriel River Trail in Los Angeles County. Taken by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • After Storm, Roll Up the Sleeves and Help Your Local Trail

    Whether Irene was a hurricane or a tropical storm when it passed through your state, the result was probably the same: lots of wind and lots of rain.

    A week later, a number of affected regions are still without power, and emergency crews are doing their best to clean up an extraordinary amount of damage to homes and public infrastructure.

    Irene was also bad news for parks and trails. Park authorities and trail managers this week announced many popular spots would be closed as they scrambled to remove trees and debris, and clear washouts from flooding. If you are a fan of your local trail, this is your chance to roll up your sleeves and show your support.

    A number of volunteer groups are organizing worker bees this Labor Day weekend to help re-open storm-damaged trails.

    In Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River Park Alliance, Schuylkill River Development Corporation and Friends of Schuylkill Banks are meeting Saturday morning for a volunteer clean-up along the Schuylkill River Trail. Workers will meet at the Race Street Entrance to the Trail at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

    In other areas, trail friends are mobilizing on facebook and blogs to muster volunteer crews.

    If you are looking for something great to do this Labor Day weekend, reach out to your local trails group and see if you can lend a hand.

    Photo of trail damage in Philadelphia courtesy of Schuylkill River Park Alliance.

  • Designers Plug into Residents' Vision for Lafitte Greenway

    Even in a city where the rebuilding of public space has taken on such critical importance, the development of the Lafitte Corridor in New Orleans presents a unique opportunity.

    Since Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005, socially and economically as well as physically, a lot of time and money has been invested in helping New Orleans grow into a city that better serves a diverse, vibrant and modern population.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is closely involved in that effort. For the past two years, RTC staff have been working with the city of New Orleans and Friends of the Lafitte Corridor (FOLC), mobilizing community involvement in the exciting development of this 3.1-mile right-of-way into a greenway of public space and trails, connecting nine historical districts between the Tremé and Lakeview neighborhoods.

    The Lafitte Corridor project is being funded by a $7.6-million Community Block Development Grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

    What makes the plan unique is its breadth. The neighborhoods around the proposed greenway house some of the poorest residents and the most wealthy, people of all colors and characteristics. The needs for each range from improving pedestrian access to shops and services, providing recreational space for young families and seniors, stimulating housing development, to addressing public safety issues connected to blight and crime.

    After many months of talking in broad, hopeful brush strokes about the potential of this corridor of disused rail tracks, the time has now arrived for concrete ideas to hit the drawing board. In August, RTC's trail development specialists Kelly Pack and Lindsay Martin assisted with the critical first public meetings in the planning process. Hosted by the city's contracted design consultants, Design Workshop of Austin, Texas, the week-long workshops were a chance for the people who will actually live near and use the greenway to say what they hope it will become.

    Described by elected officials as "the first glimpse of hope since the storm," there is much at stake in the development of the Lafitte Corridor greenway. It has the potential to not only greatly improve the city's bike and pedestrian transportation system, but also to revitalize real estate and commercial activity by connecting neighborhoods and businesses with a large public space designed for recreation and community activity.

    Much of last month's public engagement was concerned with ensuring the design consultants had accurately recorded citizens' desires for the space. Using real-time electronic 'clicker' polling, the consultants learned that making the corridor a safe place, promoting healthy living and removing blight from the area were the top three community goals for the project. A community garden was the top facility priority, followed by art and sculpture, fitness stations and an amphitheater for public performances. Most residents said they would use the greenway primarily to travel between neighborhoods, and for passive recreation. Automobile/pedestrian conflicts, loitering and crime topped the list of concerns.

    "From this feedback what emerged is that residents see the greenway as becoming a community gathering place," Pack says. "Although the trail will always be a central part of the greenway, we think that at first many people will be drawn to it for other reasons--to play, relax with friends and family, for an event. When they become familiar with the greenway, then they will start to use the trail for getting around as part of their everyday lives."

    Pack says the trail corridor's intersection with eight busy roadways will present a significant challenge for designers; only if pedestrians and cyclists feel the trail is a safe and convenient option to riding on the road will it attract regular use. When the designer comes back to the community with a series of refined concept plans in November, the intersection issue will no doubt be a focus.

    Though the drawing boards at the moment carry only hypothetical options and a sketch of community wants, there is already a good deal of optimism. These expectations can, however, be a double-edged sword: with a strong program of community involvement in public projects comes a strong sense of community ownership. Pressure on the city and its design consultants will be intense to bring to fruition a greenway the community expects.

    "On Saturday, when the consultant presented a preliminary concept map, there's was a lot of excitement in the room," Martin says. "But the planners were quick to point out that the money isn't there to make this all happen at once. This is not what you're going to get right off the bat."

    Instead, the consultants see the Lafitte corridor being developed in phases. As core elements go in--a paved trail, restrooms, shady parks, perhaps a community garden--a community life emerging organically will attract businesses to the area, boost home sales nearby. This activity will generate tax receipt income for the city, and coupled with future infrastructure budgets and developer contributions, will fund additional stages like skate parks, spraygrounds or playgrounds, facilities for public concerts.

    What has been made clear is that the corridor will be a place geared toward fulfilling the recreation and transportation needs of the area's residents, not tourists.

    Between now and November, when the consultant is due to present a shortlist of design options, the challenge for residents and the FOLC will be to maintain a high-level of public involvement in the redevelopment in order to ensure the residents' input continues to be heard, to carry weight.

    A new Lafitte Corridor greenway will not be an instant fix for these struggling neighborhoods. Like the broader city around it, improvements will come with a consistent period of planning acumen and time. Still, if the drawing board is anything to go by, there is certainly some basis for all this optimism.

    Learn more about the Lafitte Corridor and RTC's work in New Orleans,  which is supported by The Kresge Foundation as part of the Urban Pathways Initiative.  

    Photos courtesy of Bart Everson/Friends of the Lafitte Corridor.

  • Fresh Eats Refuels Summer Riders on the Met Branch

    By Lindsay Martin

    This July was the hottest month on record for the Washington, D.C. area! Coincidentally, it was the same month that staff from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's national office hosted weekly healthy food demonstrations on the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) - providing cool respite for trail users during the sweltering temperatures.

    The program was supported by funding from Kaiser Permanente to promote physical activity and healthy eating along the trail and in surrounding neighborhoods.

    From 4-7 each Wednesday evening, we hosted Fresh Eats, providing no-cook snacks inspired by the trail-side garden at DC Prep school.

    The school's garden coordinator, Mary Jean Crom, prepared food and beverages for trail walkers, runners and bicyclists to sample.

    While passersby stopped under the tent for a snack and cold water, RTC staff answered questions about the trail, signed people up to receive emails about future trail events, and recruited volunteers for the MBT trail patrol.

    Each week, a steady stream of trail users stopped by, and some came every week. One participant said,

    "As someone new to bike commuting and to the trail, I appreciated the refreshments a great deal. Summers in DC are intolerably hot, and I often felt I was riding home during the hottest hours of the day. By the time I got to the tent, I was usually hot, sweaty, tired, and not sure I could make it up the final hill. The opportunity to take a break, get water and a little fuel made all the difference. It was great to meet other users of the trail also." - Helen L.

    Here are recipes for two of the most popular snacks from Fresh Eats, Blueberry Salsa and (non-alcoholic) Mango Mojitos:

     

    Blueberry Salsa

    Ingredients

       2 cups fresh blueberries, coarsely chopped

       1 medium shallot, finely chopped

       1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

       1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

       1 tablespoon lime juice

       1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced

       1/4 teaspoon salt

    Preparation

       1) Combine ingredients in a small bowl and let sit for twenty to thirty minutes for flavors to blend.

       2) Serve with tortilla chips.

     

    Mango Mojitos

    Ingredients

       12 tbsp lime juice

       6 tbsp agave nectar

       24 oz mango nectar

       1 liter club soda

       40 mint leaves, thinly sliced 

    Preparation

       1) Muddle mint, agave nectar, and lime juice.

       2) Add mango nectar and soda.

       2) Serve over ice.

    Enjoy!

    RTC will be back out on the MBT, Saturday, Sept. 10 for a Day of Service, helping to keep the trail and surrounding gardens clean and safe for everyone to enjoy. Join us! It's easy - just visit our online registration page and sign up.

    Photos by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

  • A Chance to Speak Up for Trail Projects in Pennsylvania

    The state of Pennsylvania has taken great strides in recent years to make itself a trail-friendly region, particularly when it comes to outdoor recreation trails through its countryside and wilderness areas.

    A lot of the credit for that goes to the scores of volunteers and citizen advocates who make sure their elected officials and government departments are aware of how important these facilities are, and work hard to see that planning and funding decisions reflect the desires of the people.

    However, there's always more room to encourage walking and biking options for commuters, residents and visitors alike. And now is the time to speak up for walking and biking transportation projects in Pennsylvania!

    The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has announced a series of pubic meetings to gather input for the two-year update to the 12 Year Transportation Program. The program is supposed to address all transportation modes and contains only projects that can reasonably be expected to be funded during the next 12 years.

    PennDOT will make its decisions based on which modes it feels will keep the most Pennsylvanians moving. If your daily life regularly depends on your local bike path, walkway or trail, or your community could benefit from better options for non-motorized transportation, this is your chance to be involved in planning decisions.

    "This is a great opportunity for trail managers and citizens at all levels to participate in the funding and planning process," says Pat Tomes, program manager for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Northeast Regional Office. "Decisions will be made that affect the next 12 years of work. For those who have trails projects on the drawing board, this is probably the one opportunity to promote your case. Twelve years can be a lifetime for some trails."

    Here's the schedule for PennDOT's public meetings:

    • Butler County: Thursday, Aug. 25 (tonight) - Marriott Pittsburgh North, 100 Cranberry Woods Drive, Cranberry Township
    • Adams County: Friday, Aug. 26 - Wyndham Gettysburg, 95 Presidential Circle, Gettysburg
    • Monroe County: Thursday, Sept. 15 - Shawnee Inn, One River Road, Shawnee on Delaware
    • Philadelphia County: Friday, Sept. 16 - Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, 190 North Independence Mall West, Philadelphia

    Citizens are encouraged to attend or present testimony at any of the meetings, but preregistration is required. Testimony may be project-specific, issue-oriented or both.

    Check with your local county for details on what time hearings will begin, and visit www.dot.state.pa.us for more information about the Transportation Program.

    If you cannot attend a meeting, but you still want to present testimony, you can e-mail comments to RA-PennDOTSTC@state.pa.us.

    Or mail to:
    Mr. Nolan Ritchie, Executive Secretary
    State Transportation Commission
    PO Box 3633
    Harrisburg, PA 17105-3633

  • New England Bike-Walk Summit Returns to Providence

    From our friends at the East Coast Greenway Alliance:

    On October 7, 2010, the first-ever New England Bike-Walk Summit convened in downtown Providence, R.I., for a day of learning and sharing. Nine breakout sessions covered the gamut of bicycle- and pedestrian-related topics including funding of bike-ped infrastructure, successful collaboration between advocates and agency personnel, and the economic development potential of biking and walking. Speakers included Tim Blumenthal, president of Bikes Belong, and Jeff Miller, president/CEO of the Alliance for Biking & Walking. The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Planning Association helped sponsor and facilitate the conference.

    This important regional event returns to Providence this fall. On Friday, October 7, at the Providence Biltmore, we have another full day of sessions in store, covering a wide range of issues of interest to planners, engineers and other bike-walk stakeholders. This year, among the nine breakout session topics are street design fundamentals, low-cost improvements for bike and pedestrian mobility, bike-sharing systems, emerging bike/ped transportation design, kids' programs that work, and how to conduct a pedestrian safety audit (field visit). There will also be a poster session, exhibits and plenty of opportunities to network, including at a complimentary reception that evening.

    Summit organizers are accepting presentation proposals, and registration is already open. The fee is only $40, or half that if you are a dues-paying member of the East Coast Greenway Alliance.  Public agency officials can apply for reimbursement of their travel funds, available as long as funds last.

    For more details about the conference, including the call for presentations, registration instructions, sponsorship benefits and more, visit newenglandbikewalksummit.org. Further questions can be directed to Eric Weis at eric@greenway.org or 401.450.7155. There are other fun (free!) events happening that weekend in Providence, including Waterfire, the Providence Cyclocross Festival and VeloSwap, so consider staying for the weekend. See you in Providence!

    Photo of the East Bay Bicycle Path in Providence, R.I., by Shawn McConnell. 

  • RTC Reaches Big Trail-Mapping Milestone

    As part of our mission to promote the use and enjoyment of America's spectacular array of trails, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been working hard during the past few years to provide precise Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps for as many of these pathways as possible. 

    Accurately mapping and describing our nation's trail networks is a crucial step in making them more accessible to all users, through our series of regional guidebooks and at TrailLink.com, our free, one-stop trail-finder website. 

    But TrailLink.com and the guidebooks are just the end product of the time-consuming and technically challenging process of producing, collecting and filtering a myriad of geographical data and converting it to user-friendly forms.

    Sometimes it's hard to mark major progress with so many minute details to absorb and verify. But this summer, our hard-working Information Technology team celebrated an important milestone in their mission to catalog the pathways of America: hitting 20,000 miles of mapped trails.

    According to RTC's GIS Specialist Tim Rosner, it's great to reflect and take stock of the library of trail information compiled so far. Yet he says with new data coming in every day, and new trails projects under way all over the country, a finish line is not in sight just yet. Since RTC is the first organization to attempt to compile such detailed trails information on a national scale, it is impossible to know how many miles remain to be mapped.

    "There is really no way of knowing how many trails there currently are," Rosner says. "We're just going to keep collecting data until there is no more to collect."

    RTC has made a dedicated effort to ramp up its trail mapping capacity in recent years. When Rosner joined the team in 2008, we had mapped about 5,000 miles. The increase since then has been fueled by a combination of data submitted by RTC members and through TrailLink.com, Global Positioning System (GPS) data collected firsthand by RTC staff, existing trail maps compiled by city and county GIS officers, and information gleaned from high resolution aerial and satellite imagery.

    Collecting the data is only half of the work. A major challenge is making sure it is accurate before we pass it on to the general public.

    "We quality control check every piece of data we receive," Rosner says. "It is one of the exceptional pieces of our data set."

    The increase in our mapping efforts is a key element of RTC's goal for 90 percent of Americans to live within three miles a trail system by the year 2020. In order to track our progress toward this goal, we need accurate data on where those trails are.

    As with anything to do with technology, it is important to move with the times. Not only is RTC employing some of the latest GIS techniques in collecting data, we are also working on innovative ways to get that information to you, the trail user, including software and applications specially designed to bring mapping information to mobile technology like smart phones. Stay tuned.

     

  • Crossing Mountains, Chasing Rivers

    By Tom Bilcze

    Can a bicycle ride transform your life? In late June of this year, my best cycling buddy Chuck Gough and I--we both live in the Akron, Ohio, area--ventured out on our first bicycle tour, a 325-mile, eight-day ride across the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal towpath from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Washington, D.C. For seasoned bicycle tourists, this ride may not seem that notable or challenging. For novices like Chuck and I, this trip became the ride of our lives.

    Some Background
    In the summer of 2008 I underwent laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (Lapband) weight-loss surgery. I was approaching 300 pounds and in poor health with multiple chronic diseases. I was extremely sedentary. In the summer of 2009, Chuck underwent Roux-en-Y (RNY) weight-loss surgery. Chuck weighed close to 350 pounds and had many of the same health issues. As with me, cycling and exercise were not part of his life.

    Weight-loss surgery changed our lives in dramatic ways. We lost considerable weight; 130 pounds for Chuck and 90 pounds for me. We adopted an active healthy lifestyle. Chuck ran a marathon in 2010; quite an achievement for a person who a year earlier walked with the assistance of a cane. Chuck and I met at our local weight-loss support group and both began cycling. We quickly became friends and formed a cycling club to encourage a fit and healthy lifestyle for weight-loss surgery patients.

    In early 2011 Chuck and I decided to cycle the GAP and C&O Canal trails. Taking on challenges had become a passion for both of us. This ride was just the ticket for this point in our lives. We spent considerable time planning and training for the week-plus of cycling. We christened our bicycle tour "Crossing Mountains, Chasing Rivers," with a byline of "Cycling the footsteps of history through the Alleghenies to the Chesapeake." (We chronicled our story on a blog, www.crossingmountains.com.)

    Our Tour
    On a warm, overcast Saturday morning this past June, we pedaled east from the waterfront retail development in Homestead, just outside of Pittsburgh. Our bikes were laden with food, clothing, camping supplies and the necessities for an eight- nine-day, self-supported bicycle tour. Day one proved to be somewhat challenging. We cycled almost 50 miles through the woods along the Youghiogheny River to the River's Edge Campground just west of Connellsville. We were both tired and exhilarated after completing our first day as bicycle tourists.

    On Sunday we got our first lesson in cycling a constant uphill grade with over-packed bikes. We crossed through the beautiful Ohiopyle State Park and stopped for lunch in Ohiopyle. It was at this point that we realized that our day's goal to reach Rockwood was unachievable. We re-planned and made a decision to end the day in Confluence. We opted to forego primitive camping and spend the night at the River's Edge Bed and Breakfast. We were to learn that this decision would positively impact the remainder of our ride.

    Monday morning saw Chuck and I each mailing 25 pounds of excess gear back home. With lighter loads, on-the-trail experience and much needed rest, we cycled with new vigor uphill through Rockwood and into Meyersdale. Much more confident and relaxed, we continued to climb the Alleghenies. It was on this day that Chuck and I became a team rather than two buddies cycling together. We learned the success of bicycle touring is about relying on each other's strengths and being responsive to each other's needs.

    Tuesday afternoon we crossed the Eastern Continental Divide and began our downhill descent into Cumberland. Scenic mountain and valley vistas combined with a series of tunnels made this a day to remember. We crossed the GAP Mile 0 mile marker and began our journey on the C&O Canal towpath at the Western Maryland Railway Station. We celebrated our 140-mile journey across Pennsylvania at the Crabby Pig with our pal Aaron, a Cumberland resident, who was our innkeeper for the night.

    At this point, we realized our limited vacation time and miles remaining did not add up. So on Wednesday morning, our friend Aaron drove Chuck and me to Fort Frederick, and Aaron cycled with us from there into Williamsport. (Also, by saving 60 miles of cycling, we assured ourselves a free day to cycle around Washington, D.C.) The views from the C&O around Dam 5 on the Potomac River were quite beautiful. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Desert Rose's in Williamsport before we said our goodbyes to Aaron and continued east. We set up camp for the night along the shores of the Potomac in Antietam.

    Thursday was our most enjoyable day of the tour. We cycled into Harper's Ferry and spent the afternoon exploring this historical and scenic mountainside town. In late afternoon, we cycled into Brunswick, where we would spend a few hours at Beans in the Belfry, a coffee shop and restaurant that was very welcoming to bicyclists. We concluded Thursday with a stay in lockhouse 28, a National Park Service program where we rented a restored lockhouse for a night. The day's lesson was that it is okay to take it easy now and then and to get to know the people and places along the trail!

    Friday was a day of anticipation and excitement as we cycled the final 48 miles into Washington, D.C. It was a day of memorable landmarks-crossing the Monocacy Viaduct, enjoying a mid-morning break watching traffic shuttled across the Potomac at White's Ferry, and resting in the shade watching canal boats at the Great Falls Tavern. On a hot and muggy Friday evening, in the middle of a holiday weekend happy-hour crowd, we cycled into busy Georgetown and crossed Mile 0.

    Saturday was our reward for our week of cross-country cycling. We cycled eight miles down the shady Capitol Crescent Trail from our hotel in Bethesda to the National Mall, where we did the typical D.C. sightseeing. It was such a dramatic change for both of us. The bikes were lightened of their 50-pound loads, and quiet trails were replaced with the bustle of the city.

    We returned home the following morning by car, covering the distance of our 325-journey in a matter of hours. In our hurried lives, we seldom venture off interstate highways. Trails such as the GAP, C&O and Capitol Crescent connect us with the people and places beyond the exit ramp. Our fondest memories are of the innkeepers, servers, shopkeepers and locals we met a long the trail. I thank Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and local trail organizations for their tireless work to expand and maintain this trail network so that we can enjoy more of these experiences in the years to come!

    Photos courtesy of Tom Bilcze and Chuck Gough. 

  • Eastern Washington Continues to Pave the Way for Bike Commuters

    The city of Spokane in eastern Washington is on the verge of becoming one of the most trail-connected cities in the region, with plans afoot for a new recreational and commuter pathway along a county-owned railroad right-o- way.

    Support is growing for the city's proposal to build a bicycle and pedestrian pathway along the Great Northern Railway Line, which was once the northernmost transcontinental railroad route in the United States, linking Seattle with Saint Paul, Minn.

    The trail, referred to in separate east and west segments as the North Greenacres Trail (east) and Spokane Valley-Millwood Trail (west), would connect downtown Spokane with a number of neighborhoods and commercial areas, including the nearby city of Millwood, Spokane Valley Mall and Spokane Community College.

    It would also provide vital links to the already established Spokane River Centennial, Children of the Sun and Ben Burr trails, a Spokane Community College trail, and an extensive trail system around Liberty Lake.

    "Spokane is really committed to creating a great network of trails, biking and walking facilities," says Laura Cohen, director of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Western Regional Office. " We enjoyed working with them to restore the Iron Bridge as a trail over the Spokane River, making the connection to the Spokane River Centennial Trail.  And we're thrilled about the new trail plans for connecting into downtown."  

    According to a detailed story on August 4 from The Spokesman-Review, the project is being proposed by Spokane Valley's senior engineer for traffic, Inga Note, as a way to encourage bicycle commuting in the area.

    The Great Northern right-of-way is a hot commodity at the moment--the city is fielding requests from two separate agencies wanting to install a high-voltage electric line and a pipe for reclaimed water along the corridor. Planners hope to be able to combine the uses, though much will depend on the size and positioning of the proposed power poles.

    Spokane and Millwood have teamed up to secure $845,000 in federal funds to design the new trail; David Evans and Associates of Portland has been awarded a $95,000 contract to design the eastern section of the trail.

    Keep an eye out at TrailLink.com for updates on the trail's construction.

    (A special thanks to RTC member Michael Peart for sending us the clipping about the trail proposal from the Spokesman-Review, and for keeping us updated about what's happening in his neck of the woods. Much appreciated!)

    Photo of cyclists riding the Spokane River Centennial Trail courtesy of the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Residents Shape Vision for Lafitte Greenway in New Orleans

    Since 2009, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has played a crucial role in promoting the development of the Lafitte Greenway, a largely derelict strip of land running 3.1 miles through the center of the city. And this week marks a significant step for residents and planners who have long harbored hopes of a linear park and multi-use trail.

    The Lafitte project is part of RTC's Urban Pathways Initiative, which promotes trail use as a way to combat inner-city issues such as childhood obesity and a lack of transportation options for low-income residents.  

    Our role down in the Big Easy has been not only to help the city envision the possibilities inherent in such an urban pathway, but to build a community coalition behind the effort--a strong network of residents, businesses and supporters that would stay involved as advocates, fundraisers and cheerleaders as the project moved from general idea to actual landscape.

    After a long period laying the groundwork for community involvement in an urban greenway, including RTC's creation of a "Greenway Ambassadors" program, the people of New Orleans are finally getting to offer their suggestions on what the greenway should actually look like. Today, Monday, marked the official kick-off of "Lafitte Corridor Connections," a five-day series of workshops, public meetings and discussions hosted by the city of New Orleans and supported by RTC and Friends of the Lafitte Corridor.

    "This is when we begin to firm up the overall vision and concept for the Greenway," said RTC's Lindsay Martin as she prepared for an afternoon discussion about incorporating recreational activities and programming into the future life of the greenway. "The great thing about this event, and planning for the corridor, is that it is being driven by public engagement. This is not always the way it has been done in New Orleans in the past."

    This week's public workshop will divide the greenway into two elements for discussion: the trail itself, and all the other aspects of the greenway, such as connection points, commercial zoning, facilities, landscaping and gathering places.

    On Saturday, the project's design team will offer the first look of a corridor vision on paper during an open house and public presentation. Martin says that far from being a finished product, this presentation would be the first step in a long process of listening to what the community wants, and sculpting a workable blueprint that reflects their interests.

    "The drawing board is wide open," she says.

    In shaping a vision for the Lafitte Corridor, the advisory team has stayed close to their goal of the greenway being a catalyst for economic development--helping to revive struggling stores, bringing in new businesses, and boosting the appeal of nearby neighborhoods by connecting them to a transportation hub and recreational hotspot. This is a discussion that involves posing questions like, 'How do we encourage more grocery stores and restaurants to set up close to the corridor?' and, 'What level of residential zoning is appropriate so people want to live next to the greenway?'

    The design team will have a few months to shape all the input they receive this week into a series of concept options. At the next Lafitte Greenway open house in November 2011, planners hope to be working with a refined set of design options in order to receive feedback on more specific elements.

    For more information, visit lafittecorridorconnection.com.

    Photos of Lafitte Corridor (top right) courtesy of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, and planning (bottom left) by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.  

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